Address by Minister Bibeau at the launch of Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy


June 9, 2017 - Ottawa, Ontario

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

The big day has finally arrived, and I am very proud to present to you Canada’s new, feminist international assistance policy.

I daresay that this is a big day not just for us, but also for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, including women and girls.

Canada is back, and we are determined to enable them to reach their full potential and turn them into genuine agents of development and peace.

As you know, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave me a clear mandate: to refocus international assistance on the poorest and most vulnerable, as well as on fragile states.

In addition, Agenda 2030 and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals have charted a path for us to follow to end poverty.

But we will not break the back of poverty if we leave half of humanity on the sidelines.

We will not break the vicious cycle of poverty and violence without stepping up efforts to amplify the voices of women and girls and support their opportunities to choose their own future and fully contribute to their community.

  • In too many countries today, women and girls eat less, last and only if there is something left.
  • More than 150 countries have laws that discriminate against women.
  • More than 15 million girls are married before the age of 18.
  • Around the globe, 225 million women do not have access to the contraception methods of their choice.
  • Every year, more than 22 million women and adolescent girls undergo unsafe abortions, and every nine minutes, one of them dies as a result.
  • One of every three women in the world has experienced some form of physical or sexual and gender-based violence. 

And yet women and girls are powerful agents of change. They have the ability to transform their households, their communities and the economies of their countries. With the right interventions, governed by sound public policy, women and girls can:

  • unlock a worldwide potential for economic growth that is estimated at $12 trillion; 
  • reduce chronic hunger in the world—if they are given access to the same financial resources as male farmers;
  • significantly reduce poverty—if there are a larger number of educated women and girls in our societies;
  • have healthy, more educated and more prosperous families—if they are included in decisions on the allocation of family resources; and
  • help build a more peaceful world—if they are true stakeholders in peace processes.

When women’s rights are respected and when women have the means to take action in their communities, everyone benefits, and the rights of other marginalized groups are also respected—whether they face exclusion or discrimination on the basis of their sex, race, ethnicity, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ability, or migrant or refugee status; or because of other intersectionalities.

Meanwhile, from 1995-2015, Canada’s government failed to champion women’s rights.

Only approximately 2 percent of our bilateral international development assistance was allocated to projects whose primary objectives were gender equality and the empowerment of women.

It was high time to take a good, hard look at the situation and adopt a new plan, a more ambitious plan, a more feminist plan.

I would like to thank the thousands of Canadians, the Canadian civil society organizations in attendance here today and our partners around the world, who contributed to our consultations—more than 15,000 people, in 65 countries.

That speaks to Canada’s place in the world, but also to the size of the expectations that people have of Canada. 

They are asking us for three things:

  • leadership,
  • sound policy, and
  • money.

Let’s clarify the money issue right away. Canada’s official development assistance is projected to be over $5.3 billion per year, and the value of the international assistance envelope will exceed $5 billion in the 2017 to 2018 fiscal year.

On a global scale, official development assistance represents $140 billion annually. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals globally by 2030, between $5 trillion and $7 trillion are needed.

It is essential to increase government contributions, but it is also especially important to step up our efforts to seek out new partners and new investors. We need to be more innovative—and even take a few calculated risks accompanied by very stringent monitoring.

We must also make the most of our leadership by using our financial contributions to leverage additional investments.

Take the Fifth Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund, which gathered donors and partner countries as well as the private sector in Montréal last September. Canada’s leadership helped raise close to $13 billion to help put an end to AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

With a $300-million capitalization, the Development Finance Institute is another great example of Canada’s concrete action to leverage and stimulate investments in developing countries.

We also need to make sure we have a strong policy in place.

It goes without saying that our new policy is consistent with Canada’s Official Development Assistance Accountability Act, which aims to reduce poverty, take into consideration the perspectives of those who receive our assistance and be consistent with Canadian values and international human rights standards.

Our new policy is also based on Canadian expertise, on evidence and, obviously, on the results of our extensive consultation process, from which three core elements emerged: human dignity, the empowerment of women and girls, and building local capacity.

With this in mind, we concluded that a feminist approach, solidly anchored in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, is the best way to reduce poverty and create a world that is more inclusive, more peaceful and more prosperous.

Achieving this objective also requires engaging men and boys and transforming attitudes and social dynamics, especially power dynamics.

From now on, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will be targeted in and integrated into all of our programs, including our humanitarian support.

Our new policy is based on six areas of action:

The first and main area of action is specific. It promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Canada will devote 15 percent of its bilateral international development assistance to projects that specifically target gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as their primary objective within five years, including:

  • those helping to fight against sexual and gender-based violence;
  • those supporting organizations that promote women’s rights;
  • those improving the public sector’s institutional capacity for inclusiveness; and
  • those dedicated to obtaining gender-specific evidence.

In this regard, today I am pleased to announce a new program in the amount of $150 million over five years that will be specifically devoted to local women’s organizations dedicated to promoting women’s rights and advancing women’s leadership and gender equality.

The other areas of action are thematic, but all the resulting projects will require a significant component focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Exceptional cases will require ministerial approval, regardless of the amounts involved.

And I can tell you that, already, projects that did not initially appear to have the potential to comply with this new rule have made significant progress in integrating women.

Our most recent polio-eradication project is proposing increased involvement of women in its community-based approach, which will allow for better data to be collected on vaccine recipients.

The second area of action is thematic, targeting human dignity

Canada will help ensure that human dignity remains a priority in the regions of the world where the poorest and most vulnerable populations have little or no access to essential services, some of them also contending with the devastating effects of an armed conflict or natural disaster.

Development projects and emergency humanitarian assistance will offer health care—specifically sexual, reproductive and psychosocial health care, potable water, nutritious foods and quality education.

Please don’t hold it against me if I go over the development action areas a little quickly—and please rest assured that I recognize how fundamental basic, secondary and professional education is to the development of women and girls’ competencies and leadership.

Just as I recognize that nutrition plays an essential role in the learning and development of children and adolescents.

While our new policy presents a feminist vision, it still yields room to all those elements, and more, that cannot be circumvented if we want to address humanitarian and development needs.

It is in this spirit that, on March 8, we announced a commitment of $650 million over three years to significantly improve the maternal and newborn health initiative by funding an entire range of sexual and reproductive health services, that is, sexuality education, family planning, contraception, safe and legal abortion and post abortion care, and by defending all related rights.

Before I go on, allow me to emphasize the fact that, for all action areas, the number of projects that can contribute to reducing poverty is far greater than the few examples I am listing today.

However, all these projects have a common goal: they contribute to gender equality and advance the rights and empowerment of women and girls. This will have the greatest impact on the reduction of poverty and inequalities.

It won’t just be a question of evaluating the impact of a project and then checking a box.

To be eligible for Canadian financing, concrete actions will be mandatory.

Let’s go now to the third area of action, which targets growth that works for everyone

Canada will support women and girls so they can develop their skills, have access to decision-making positions and fully participate in the economic growth of their communities, mainly by supporting technical and vocational training and entrepreneurship.

Canada will also promote social inclusion, the right to work, the right to own property and access to financing for women.

For example, in South Sudan, Canada is investing $20 million to equip and train smallholder farmers to grow more food and improve the nutritional health of the population.

Through this effort, Canada is helping to empower vulnerable community members—women and men—to claim their equal rights to productive assets, such as land and access to markets.

The fourth area of action involves the environment and climate action.

Canada is committed to helping the most vulnerable countries adapt to climate change, mitigate its impact and, by making the most of private sector investments, facilitate the transition to a low carbon-emission economy.

Canada will provide women with support to improve their crops’ resilience, their access to water and other natural resources and their participation in decision making in environmental matters.

I would like to point out here that one of the first commitments made by our government, in Paris in 2015, was $2.65 billion for developing countries to cope with climate change.

Here is an interesting example.

In Jordan, Canada is investing over $20 million in the renewable-energy sector to promote the adoption of new technologies, such as solar panels and heaters for households.

Not only will adoption of such technologies have climate change benefits, it will result in significant savings for some of the poorest families in Jordan.

Women will play critical roles in the promotion and maintenance of these technologies, as trained “energy ambassadors” and technicians.

The fifth area of action is inclusive governance.

Canada firmly believes that democracy, responsible governance, peaceful pluralism and human rights are critical factors for peace and development.

When voices of diverse women are present in decision making, policies and programs can be better designed because they provide a different perspective, one that is much needed to create a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

Canada will therefore support inclusive governance by investing in the rights of women, their participation in political life, the strengthening of their legal power and access to justice, as well as making the environment more favourable to their participation in civil society.

Finally, the sixth area of action, peace and security.

Canada is committed to reducing threats and helping stabilize fragile states and those affected by armed conflict.

Canada will therefore encourage the participation of women as peacebuilders, and in its National Action Plan it will work to advance the global Women, Peace and Security Agenda.

Let me give you another example.

If we invest in police training missions abroad, we will ensure that local women are also benefiting from the training.

Women’s presence and expertise is crucial in policing because it enables more effective interventions in a variety of situations, such as conjugal violence and rape.

A sound policy is not everything: we must also set objectives and work effectively to reach them.

This is precisely what we have been working on during the last year.

During the consultations:

  • You asked for gender equality to be targeted and integrated. That is exactly what our feminist policy proposes.
  • You asked for Canada to further support women in developing countries. I just announced a $150 million program that is dedicated especially to them.
  • You asked to increase investments in sexual and reproductive health and rights. We have dedicated $650 million over three years to the cause. I want to remind you that this means we are doubling our investments in this area.
  • You asked that we make up for lost time in the struggle against climate change. We will honour our $2.65 billion commitment.
  • You asked for our humanitarian programs to be multi-year and more flexible. We are already in the second year of our three-year response to the crisis in Syria and the Middle East, using this approach.
  • You asked that we recommit to the poorest, particularly in Africa. I announce to you that we are committing to dedicate 50 percent of our bilateral international development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa by the 2021 to 2022 fiscal year, with an emphasis on women and youth.
  • And finally, you asked that Canadian small and medium-sized civil society organizations have increased access to international assistance. A few weeks ago, I announced a new $100 million fund over five years dedicated specifically to them. 

Our new feminist international assistance policy is the most ambitious and progressive in the history of Canada’s diplomacy.

It will make Canada a global leader in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

To all the partners who actively participated in our consultations, who guided me, advised and challenged me throughout this process: today I am giving you a challenge.

I cannot recall who said “be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.”  

Yes, you understood me: From now on, to obtain Canadian funding, all our partners must consult women locally, involve them in decision making and ensure they are significantly engaged in project implementation.

But I know that you, in particular the Canadian civil society organizations, will be able to meet this challenge with flying colours.

I am also counting on you to share your results proudly—your successes but also the lessons learned. 

I also need your participation, your passion and your commitment to share with Canadians the importance of international assistance, not only out of compassion but also because we know that it is in the interest of Canadians.

The world has gotten smaller, and it is essential for us to do our fair share to ensure global balance, to protect health and the environment and ensure peace and economic growth. 

What we are revealing today is a decidedly feminist vision that will transform our international assistance.

It is a crucial and exciting step in our process, but we still have work to do. 

Right now, we are finalizing the criteria that will define the parts of the world in which Canada will be more—or less—engaged.

This means we are putting aside the rigid list of countries of focus to adopt a more flexible and efficient approach based, in particular, on:

  • the poorest and most vulnerable countries and fragile states;
  • the development plans and peace processes of the partner countries;
  • Canada’s comparative advantages; and
  • our new feminist policy.

This does not mean we will suddenly close some bilateral programs to open others somewhere else.

It means we will have the flexibility to invest our resources where Canada can have the biggest impact in reducing poverty and inequalities. 

We will also improve our processes and funding mechanisms to make them more innovative, better adapted to various types of partners and more results based, while making sure the money of Canadian taxpayers reaches the poorest and the most vulnerable and those in fragile states.

To conclude, I want to thank you—Canadian civil society partners, employees of the department, colleagues at missions abroad and, of course, the staff in my office—for your invaluable cooperation, .

You know you are models across the world. Everywhere I have gone since being appointed, I have heard how extraordinary Canadians are, how good we are at sharing our experience and at being innovative—in particular in reaching consensus and bringing people together.

It’s been said that “the world needs more Canada.” 

Dear friends, it is a great pleasure and privilege for me to work with you, and I am sure that the passion that drives us will help reduce poverty and create a world that is more inclusive, more peaceful and more prosperous.

Thank you.


Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux

Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie

Media Relations Office
Global Affairs Canada
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